Photosynthesis can be difficult for a child to understand. Even though they know that leaves are green and that plants need the sun to live, they may struggle with the concept that plants are living things that use sunlight to produce their own food. What probably makes it so difficult is that your kids can’t see chlorophyll, carbon dioxide, oxygen, or the other elements involved in plants’ production of food. Thankfully, you can help show them the otherwise invisible process of photosynthesis using any of these five hands-on teaching methods!
1. Remove the chlorophyll from a leaf with this at-home experiment
Could you convince your kid that leaves aren’t really green? To understand the process of photosynthesis, your child must first understand what chlorophyll is and what it does for leaves (besides lending them a lovely color!). There’s a good chance your child has never heard of chlorophyll, but using this experiment at Sciencing which uses boiling water and rubbing alcohol to extract it from the plant, your child can not only see leaves true color, but also visualize chlorophyll as a concept and begin to understand its role in photosynthesis.
2. Show how leaves breathe using this simple experiment
It can be difficult for kids to imagine plants as living, breathing things. Thankfully, this incredibly easy experiment from Edventures with Kids creates an environment where your child can easily see the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange; all you need is a leaf from the backyard and a bowl from the cupboard.
3. Illustrate how environment affects the rate of photosynthesis using this hands-on lab
This fascinating activity detailed at General Botany uses leaves and an ordinary hole-punch to measure the rate of photosynthesis. After removing pockets of trapped atmospheric gas in the leaves using a process detailed in the article, you place the leaf disks into a beaker of warm sodium bicarbonate solution. This solution will act as carbon dioxide, and after a few minutes your child will see photosynthesis at work when the leaf disks begin to slowly rise to the surface and float. This means they have successfully carried out photosynthesis and produced oxygen-which all humans need to breathe! Your child will also notice that the more conducive the environment is to the process of photosynthesis, the faster the disks will float up to the surface. Which environments make the leaf disks float fastest?
4. Make an artsy 3D leaf model
For visually-inclined children, scientific concepts such as photosynthesis are often hard to grasp because learning about them relies largely on understanding processes that cannot be seen. For that reason, this colorful 3D photosynthesis model from The Inspired Classroom is the perfect way to engage kids who might otherwise rather be in art class.
5. Create this interactive photosynthesis notebook
Another great tool for visual learners who learn best through creative outlets is this interactive photosynthesis notebook created by Kate’s Classroom Cafe. It details the process of photosynthesis in colorful pictures, appealing diagrams and interactive “flash card” style flip notes that help kids quiz themselves on the information they’ve just learned. Kate’s Classroom Cafe also has several other hands-on photosynthesis activities to browse through, like playdough photosynthesis models and a grass experiment which illustrates the importance of the sun in the process.
In short, plants are the ultimate recycling factory -- always turning carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen. While learning about photosynthesis isn’t easy, these five activities should help shed some light on how and why it happens. Furthermore, once kids understand the process and importance of photosynthesis, they’ll begin to understand their integral importance to human life and why we should do our best to protect and preserve them.